First camera housing made by Ron Barbish

Sometime in the mid 1970's, the two things I was most interested in; photography and surfing, came together when I began to shoot surfing from the water. This is a very demanding kind of photography; you must stay in or near the "impact zone" of breaking waves while shooting the surfers as the pass by, around or over you. To do this, you would need a waterproof camera "housing" to keep the camera dry. The only housings available at the time were heavy and bulky camera housings used by scuba divers or Nikonos diving cameras, unusable for surf photography. The only option available was to build my own housings. The first housing, in the photo to the left, was made out out thick plexiglas. It was big and heavy, the 3/8" front port did not make for really sharp photos, but it did not leak and enabled me to get closer to the surfers than ever before.

The Rock in Oceanside, CA

Breakout Magazine cover shot 1979

I started taking photos around the North County surf spots and by 1979 I was working for a local surfing magazine. I took the magazine's first full-bleed cover shot using the first camera housing I ever made. In addition to taking photos, I wrote articles, helped with the magazine layout and did the photo lab work. It was a valuable learning experience and I met a number of people who I would work with in the following years.
Also about this time video tape was a new thing, VHS tape players were becoming popular. We started using Super 8 movie cameras and first generation VHS camcorders to distribute movies of the surfing experience without going to a theatre. All the editing was done with two tape decks, computers had not come into common use at this time. It was all new, we were doing things nobody had ever done before.

Wes Laine Warm Water Jetty
Wes Laine

Mike Doyle 1980
This photo of Mike Doyle was taken in 1980 at Terramar. It was a product shoot for the first soft surfboard; the Morey/Doyle.

Super 8 surf movie-Oceanside, CA 1984
Super 8 Movie - Oceanside, CA 1984

Chris Olivas - Sonny Miller - Al Carrasco

Mark Kerwin - Carlsbad CA
Mark Kerwin Carlsbad CA

Sailboarding Perris Reservoir 1982
Perris Reservoir 1982

Blacks-San Diego, CA
Billy Stern - Blacks

Super 8 movie Oceanside Harbor
Super 8 Movie - Oceanside Harbor 1984

Jim Weldon surfing Sonny Miller taking water photos

Oceanside shop 1984

Oceanside Shop 1984

Surfing and other water sports like sailboarding were quickly growing in popularity. By 1980 I had developed the design and construction of the camera housings to the point where other water photographers wanted me to make housings for them. The first housing shop was my garage in Oceanside, California. I didn't make a large number of housings but began to work with other young, ambitious photographers from all over the world. This started the tradition of new ideas being discussed, then camera equipment being designed to get out in the water and do things that had not been done before.
The bright orange camera housings became a recognizeable trademark. We began doing things that had never been done before like flash photography and POV cameras. We started working with Super 8 and 16mm movie cameras; surfing was on TV for the first time and video tapes were becoming popular.

Camera Housings

Photographic Support Systems camera housings built by Ron Barbish

Photographic Support Systems camera housings built by Ron Barbish

Photographic Support Systems-California Sportphoto shop in Carlsbad, CA

Carlsbad Shop 1984-2007

In 1984 we moved out of the garage on Alvarado Street to a storefront in Carlsbad, California that served as the Photo Support office and workshop until 2007. The shop was a rest stop for water photographers from all over the world coming from their home countries en route to destinations like Hawaii and Indonesia. All of the Photographic Support Systems camera housings were built here.

Ron Barbish in the Photographic Support Systems workshop Carlsbad shop showroom

The shop also had full photo and video editing capability and we configured and built photo and video editing computer workstations for other photographers and film makers. We were the first business in the area to have high speed internet and the website has been online from 1984 until 2021.

Columbia River Gorge kiteboarder

Blacks - San Diego, CA

Sonny Miller - Oceanside, CA
Sonny Miller

Super 8 movie Baja California
Super 8 movie Baja California

Colin Smith surfer Rob Keith shooting water photos

Kayak fishing on the Colorado River with

Blacks - San Diego, CA

Digital cameras quickly made film all but obsolete and changed photography and film production in just about every technical way. Being a surf photographer was not exactly the way to get rich in the best of times, it was obvious the times were changing. In July, 2007, the worldwide economy was getting worse while the cost of doing business in Carlsbad got higher.

Crime problems at the Carlsbad shop

A transit station was built near the office and the neighborhood began to attract drug dealers, transients and commuter traffic jams. It was not worth it to remain in business any longer so I closed the Carlsbad shop. The website was taken offline after thirty three years, this is the last version of the website. Instead of manufacturing camera housings, I concentrated on new venues for water-based photography. Some of that work can be seen at the website. I continue to work with advanced photography and video systems as well as the latest composite materials and manufacturing procedures. I'm out on the water taking photos and video whenever I get the chance. What the future holds for camera housings and water photographers remains to be seen.